Islamabad: Rattled by the US’ assertion that ISI was using terror groups as a “veritable arm” to wage a proxy war in Afghanistan, Pakistan today asked Washington to stop making such comments or else it may lose an ally.
Claiming that Americans could not effectively fight the ongoing war in Afghanistan without Pakistan’s assistance, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told reporters in Karachi. “They can’t live with us. They can’t live without us.”
Gilani adopted a more circumspect response to the furore caused by US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen’s statement that Haqqani network, a powerful faction of the Taliban, was a “veritable arm” of ISI, after his Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar warned Washington that it could lose an ally if it continued to publicly accuse Islamabad of exporting violence to Afghanistan.
The Pakistani leaders spoke a day after Mullen, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of staff, accused ISI of supporting the Haqqani network in carrying out a string of deadly terror attacks, including an assault on the US embassy in Kabul on September 13.
The US Admiral’s tough words marked the first time a top US military official had linked ISI directly to the terror groups, signalling a significant change in the American approach towards Islamabad.
In hard-hitting remarks from New York, which threatened to plunge the two nations into a fresh collision course, Khar said: “We have conveyed to the US that you will lose an ally. You cannot afford to alienate Pakistan; you cannot afford to alienate the Pakistani people.”
“If they are choosing to do so, it will be at their own cost,” she said.
Gilani sought to play down tensions by saying “So, I will say to them (US) that when they can’t live without us, they should increase contacts to end misunderstandings with us”.
“If the relations with the US are on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest, and if there is such wrong messaging, then it is difficult to convince our people. I would ask America to leave political space for us so that we can convey their importance to the people,” he said.
The Pakistani leaders, however, side stepped making any comments on the testimony made by US military commanders in Congressional hearings.
Khar, who is in New York to attend the UN General Assembly meeting, told Geo News channel that though militants based in Afghanistan had carried out cross-border attacks on Pakistan, Islamabad had not resorted to a blame game even though US forces are responsible for security on Afghan side.
It is in the interest of both Pakistan and the US to retain their relationship, Khar said. “So, if it is not a relationship of complete equals, them being a superpower and us not, but it is (a relationship) of sovereign equals.”
Both countries need each other and Pakistan wants its relationship with the US to remain intact, she said. But Pakistan’s sovereignty must be respected by the US, she added.
Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar too rejected the US accusations and said there would not have been an attack on a General in Pakistan’s border areas if there were contacts between the security establishment and Haqqani network.
He was referring to a recent incident in which a Major General commanding troops in the country’s northwest was injured when militants fired at his helicopter.
“At this time, it is difficult for America to move away from Pakistan and we too need them… We have had a relationship with them since the 1940s and do not want to end that,” Mukhtar said.